Arc's search for 'spirit of place' in Hull

Photo by Hull Republic


Is there such a thing as Hullness?  Is it possible to find the 'spirit' of a place in its streets and houses and open spaces?  And, if it is possible, what is the 'spirit of place' for Hull? These are some of the questions that we have been trying to investigate.  

What's it all about?

The Hullness project is about exploring the notion of 'sense of place' and the important relationship between past and present in creating local identity and distinctiveness. Our focus is on the built environment, but has the flexibility to consider other cultural factors. This is the search for Hullness.

We are asking the people of Hull - does Hullness exist?  And if so - where does it come from? Can you see it in the bricks and mortar, or is it in other things such as attitude or way of life? What is the role of the past in creating a collective 'sense of self' and how does this interact with modern factors?

In classical Roman religion, the Genius Loci was quite literally a guardian spirit who watched over a place. Altars would be dedicated to the genius Loci of a particular locality to secure its continued protection. Today, the term is used to refer to a location's distinctive atmosphere or 'spirit' – but it is a spirit which can be hard to find.

Image of a Hullness debate at Andrew Marvell School

Our work so far...

Our search for Hullness began in 2009 with a series of debates and initial investigations by an architect, an historian, a geographer and a couple of psycho-geographer-photographers. We established our Hullness blog, published a questionnaire and asked people to submit photographs.

In late 2010 we made a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to further develop the project in 2011-12. We had a stall at the Princes Avenue VISTA festival in June 2010, where we re-launched Hullness. Take a look at our photos from the day.

In early 2011 we worked with English Heritage and local residents on a project focusing specifically on Beverley Road to identify the 'spirit of place' for the area, in order to build on the characterisation work already undertaken by Hull City Council. Read more about our Beverley Road-ness project.

Hullness exhibition at the Arc building

Fifteen debates were held throughout 2011-12 (twelve with community groups and three with local secondary schools), engaging two hundred local residents across the city (including over forty young people), and involving fourteen local volunteers.

In March 2012 we created a unique exhibition that includes photographs submitted by the wider public, has toured venues across the city in 2012 and is now showing at Hull Central Library.

We also created an archive of material from the discussions held at these debates - a valuable ‘snapshot in time' collection of responses and opinions from people living in the city, about the city. The archive is now publicly available at the Hull History Centre and we hope it will be of use to architects and decision-makers in order to encourage them to consider local identity when planning future developments in the city, as well as being of interest to local history researchers and the general public.

We have also created a Hullness brochure (see image below) detailling the project which you can download (opens in a new window).

Photo by Ian Brown

Hullness brochure image

Image of a Hullness debate at HANA


What people have said about the project...

"I felt that people were genuinely interested in their city, their home and the ways in which they could be involved in the shaping of future projects. My expectations were exceeded in terms of learning and experience. I feel privileged to have played a part in such a unique and inspiring project."

Joe Morizzo, Hullness volunteer

"The Hullness project is of great benefit to the communities of Kingston upon Hull as the project goes in to the heart of the different communities themselves.

The project enables these communities to voice their thoughts and to identify things they see as unique and want to see preserved, rather than just something somebody thinks they want. Hullness gives ownership of the built environments and of the communities themselves back to the community in these changing times."

Tracey Henry, Debate speaker

   Photo by Keith Britton                                                                                                     



Hullness - an introduction by Dr David Atkinson, University of Hull

The concept of place is simultaneously one of the most familiar and one of the most elusive notions circulating our modern world. We are all familiar with the idea that we can talk about a sense of place and that we can know ours and other places. This is because place is central to the human condition: it is through dwelling and living in and through places that we come to know our world, and it is through representations of the wider world that we come to know other peoples and communities in places beyond our experiences. Yet despite the way that place is hard-wired through our sense of ourselves and our position in the world, most people (including academics) struggle to define what place is, what it means, and how we might capture a sense of this concept. A distinctive sense of place has become particularly valued and the Hullness project sets out to explore this notion for Hull. The search and exploration of place-identity is a constructive, collective exercise that we can use to reflect on our shared identity, our heritage and the nature of the place where we live.

Want to read more? You can now download the full report by David Atkinson which explores academic writing on 'place' and assesses the work Arc has done so far.


Get involved...

  • What is Hullness? We would like you to help by sending in your images and text of what 'Hullness' means to you.
    Text 'ARC' followed by your photo or message to 60300.  Submissions will appear on our online gallery (but will no longer be contributed to the archive). Texts will be charged at your standard network rate.

  • 'Hullness is...' Fill in our online questionnaire to share your thoughts on Hullness with us. (However please note that submissions will no longer be added to the 2012 archive)

  • If you or your organisation would be interested in taking part in one of our debates and tackling the subject of Hullness, please contact us.

  • Read our Hullness blog, or follow our activity on Facebook or Twitter

  • Feel free to contact us if you have any thoughts or feedback in the meantime.

Students of Hull School of Art and Design chose 'Hullness' as their project to explore in a video journalism project:




Hullness logo.jpg

Thank you...

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers and participants from across the city that have made this project so varied and interesting, all the organisations that have hosted a debate and finally everyone who submitted photographs for the archive and exhibition (credits below).

Project volunteers:

Cate Allison, Simon Barwick, Chris Bennett, John Brien, Julie Corbett, Terry Hilton, Christine Hornby, Stuart Leadley, Claire Marsden, Joe Morizzo, Norman Richards, Malcolm Sharman, Danielle Windass.

Photos submitted by:

Keith Britton, Ian Brown, Cat Button, Glynis Charlton, Hannah Cooper, Julie Corbett, Stuart Leadley, Claire Marsden, Helen Middleton, Hull Republic, Ian Sutherland, Rick Welton, Jon Wood.



Arc is proud to be funded by the following organisations:
Arts Council England NPS CABE Hull City Council Architecture Centre Network Arts Council Gateway East Riding Council Heritage Lottery Fund Hull and East Yorkshire Community Foundation